U.S. Postal Service falling short of targets in major opioids law

April 4, 2019 GMT

The U.S. Postal Service is not complying with a new law that requires it to collect electronic data on foreign packages before they arrive, leaving “unacceptable vulnerabilities” in the process that roots out deadly synthetic opioids, a key senator said Thursday.

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, told the postal service he will demand progress, citing data that say it collected advanced electronic data on just 76 percent of packages shipped from China and 57 percent of data on packages from all foreign posts in January.

The STOP Act, which Mr. Portman shepherded into law last year, required the postal service to collect the data on all Chinese packages and 70 percent of the international flow by the end of 2018.

The main purpose of the STOP Act, which President Trump touted as part of sweeping opioids legislation, is to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection a heads up on packages entering the U.S., so they can recognize patterns and intercept parcels that may contain illicit fentanyl from clandestine labs overseas.

“With that in mind, we request regular briefings and updates on the specific and detailed efforts your agencies must immediately implement to address these unacceptable vulnerabilities,” Mr. Portman, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote in a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennen and CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, joined the letter.

The postal service received data on nearly 71 percent of Chinese packages and almost 53 percent of all international packages for all of 2018, according to the senators. That means it made progress in the new year though still fell short of Congress’s targets after the Dec. 31 deadline.

For its part, the postal service says it’s already cracking down.

Postal and customs officials told China that “in the absence of increased progress” toward 100 percent compliance, any shipment without the advanced electronic data “may be returned at any time,” the postal service said in a written statement.

“In addition, CBP has notified air and ocean carriers to communicate with postal officials in the People’s Republic of China to confirm that 100 percent of the containers with postal shipments contain AED before loading them onto their conveyance,” it said.

As Congress debated the STOP Act, officials testified that procuring advanced data is harder than it looks because of complex treaties that govern international mail delivery.

Some countries don’t have the sophistication to provide the electronic data, while others are providing more data but not moving as fast as the U.S. would like.

In blunt terms, demanding the data could require rejecting mail outright, resulting in retaliation in kind by the corresponding countries.

Yet Mr. Portman and Congress said too many people are dying from fentanyl in their communities, so drastic action was necessary.

Under the STOP Act, the postal service has until the end of 2020 to gather advanced electronic data on 100 percent of foreign packages. They must have a plan to reject shipments that don’t include the data after that point.

Mr. Portman said any briefings to his office should include that plan.

A postal service spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from The Washington Times.

Officials say fentanyl, a synthetic opioid said to be 50 times more powerful than heroin, is the No. 1 killer in the drug-overdose crisis. Much of it is made in China and arrives through the mail or trafficking routes through the southern border.

“We know how opioids are getting into this country and we know where the drugs are coming from,” Mr. Portman and Mr. Carper wrote in their letter. “Efficient, effective, and secure operations at the major mail facilities that process inbound international mail are critical in stemming the flow of this poison.”

Chinese officials recently said they will follow through on a pledge to Mr. Trump and schedule all forms of the drug as an illegal substance.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced sanctions legislation Thursday designed to hold China to its commitment and punish bad actors who skirt the rules.

“We cannot rely on the word of China,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said.

The legislation prods the U.S. government to identify makers of fentanyl, release their names and impose financial penalties. That could include freezing the assets of major Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies, or denying them access to U.S markets.

“We’re not talking about someone making drugs in their kitchen,” Mr. Schumer said.